Health Inspiration – A Tribute to My Parents
Making an adjustment to your diet or lifestyle can be a daunting task. Many people wait to make such a change until there is a health crisis in their life. Whether it be chronic pain or countless doctor visits with no diagnosis or meaningful relief. At this point, some of us throw up our hands in frustration and finally make changes to our diet and lifestyle that ultimately improve our lives. I hear this story again and again from many individuals, including those who are now working in the field of nutrition and functional medicine. They have improved their health or that of a loved one and now they want to share it with the world.
I was the opposite. I grew up in a home where my parents had already made that change, they had experienced a life altering event, trained with a Naturopathic Doctor and at 30 set their lives on a different path. They have shown me that being diligent with your health can make old age enjoyable and that it’s not inevitable that we succumb to drugs and hospitals. My parents are as healthy and vibrant today at 72 and 80 as they were when I was a teenager. This is my positive proof of the impact diet and lifestyle can provide and why I do what I do today!
As we approach Father’s Day I am writing this piece as a tribute to my dad (and mom). This is their journey. I think their story is a little like being able to see into the future and I hope it will inspire you!
My parent’s adopted a whole foods approach in their 30s after my dad had a severe allergic reaction to cheese. Now some might say genes dictate health, which is partially true, but data now shows us a lot of disease can be controlled or prevented with smart lifestyle choices. You may genetically be predisposed to something but you have a lot of control over whether it manifests or not. A case control (a study of one person) is not usually used as a scientific source, but in this case my parents with 2 different sets of genes both have spectacular health for their age. Neither on a single medication (do you know a single person over 65 not on medication?!!), neither having any form of chronic disease. As it relates to genetic disposition my dad had seven siblings, none who adapted his way of eating and most are afflicted with being overweight and/or having various forms of chronic disease, including several younger siblings having passed. Coincidence? Maybe, but the science supports my conclusion that their lifestyle and diet help make them the way they are today, healthy weight, full of energy and still very mentally astute. (1,2)
I thought a lot about habits my parents followed for the last 40 years, then I interviewed them and asked them what their secret was! Here is what we came up with:
1. Eat limited sugar. My dad swears avoiding sugar during high stress keeps you from getting sick. He never missed a day of work. Indulge once in a while but save it for special occasions.
2. Exercise, do something! Walk, lift some light weights. They have both walked or done something active for all these years. They still make it a priority.
3. Make sleep a priority, not matter how busy they were they tried for those eight hours.
4. Include a meditative practice in your life. For my parents this was their church and spiritual beliefs. It helped with the stress of life.
5. My parents both had a vitamin regime that they started and kept with. They saw a nutritionist and/or integrative doctor all throughout their lives for testing on what to take. My mom thinks this is the most important thing she did.
6. Use of bio-identical hormones. They can make a big difference in the aging process and overall feeling of well-being.
7. Find a job you love! Both my parents worked full time into their 70s in a field that was their passion and purpose.
My dad first saw a Naturopathic Doctor back in the 70s, Paavo Airola (his books are still in print!) after an allergic reaction. This man had a huge impact on his life and has since always incorporated what he was then told: “Nutrition is like a three-legged stool. This stool consists of nutritious food, exercise and adequate sleep. If one leg of the stool is weak, it can topple over.” He also had my dad say this every morning. “Every day in every way I am getting better and better and better!”
Your body is your temple, it is never too late to start treating it right. You can enter old age with energy and mental clarity. I challenge you to find inspiration in this story and to take care of yourself starting now.
Thanks mom and dad for showing me the way, and Happy Father’s Day to you, dad. I look forward to the years to come!
Michelle Gottfried is an intern with Dr. Fitzgerald. She is currently working on her Masters in Human Nutrition at the University of Bridgeport.